apan produced an extraordinary turnaround against Spain to rocket into the Round of 16 of the World Cup and top Group E, sending Germany home on another night of drama in Qatar.
After being submitted by Spain in the first half, Ritsu Doan and Ao Tanaka both struck in quick succession almost immediately after action resumed to send Japan through with another famous win.
Spain were given quite the scare when Costa Rica came from behind to lead Germany, a result that would also have sent Luis Enrique’s side out, but late goals at Al Bayt Stadium saw them retain second place.
Japan’s prize for top of the group is a meeting with 2018 runners-up Croatia, while Spain meet close neighbors Morocco.
Enrique’s side had taken an early lead within 15 minutes, Morata scoring his first start of the group stage with his third World Cup goal, the striker rising impressively at the far post to head the center of Cesar Azpilicueta.
What followed was a performance built in classic Spanish style – stifling pressure to win the ball back when possession was lost and serene passing when the ball was, quickly and inevitably, won by Spanish feet.
It looked like the Spaniards were going through, but five minutes into the second half the game turned around. The half-time introductions of Doan and Kaoru Mitoma gave Japan a new focus, with a quick brace fueling a remarkable turnaround.
First, Doan pounced on an error by Unai Simon to fire in a thunderbolt from 20 yards out, before Mitoma latched the ball on for Tanaka to convert from close range – the goal eventually awarded after a long VAR check decided that Mitoma somehow prevented the entire ball from crossing the line.
Such a dramatic fluctuation sure seemed to precipitate more drama, but as events elsewhere changed the situation, Japan held their ground – Spain gritty on goal difference.